Trevor Hohns August 12, 2011

'We've got to stop using the rebuilding as an excuse'

Former selector Trevor Hohns is back in the frame. He talks about the challenge of bringing Australia's once-formidable depth back up to speed

When Trevor Hohns quit as Australia's chairman of selectors in mid-2006, his departure was not overly mourned. Australia had, after all, conspired to lose the 2005 Ashes - at the time considered cause for consternation, despite the magnificence of the cricket that brought about the result. Selection chairmen are seldom loved, but Hohns has risen in the public estimation by his absence. When in charge, he presided over a period of success that was helped by rare reserves of talent but also by the neatly staggered retirements of a generation of players. In almost every instance it was Hohns who either initiated discussions or tapped players on the shoulder. That frankness and foresight have been sought again by Queensland and Australia, via Hohns' appointment as Queensland chairman of selectors and state talent manager. The cricket landscape he has returned to is a long way removed from the one he left.

How do you view state cricket right now, relative to when you quit as chairman in 2006?
I don't think there's anything wrong with the state system. Our state competition is an area we need to try to keep strong, obviously via the Shield competition, but then there's the second XI. To me it all follows on: you need a strong second XI or Futures League competition. Hopefully that will keep your state sides strong. And if you've got a good, strong state competition, it means the national side should be strong, and that means states are producing players knocking on the door for national selection.

Everyone knows that Australia has been going through a rebuilding process the last few years. Well, we've got to stop using that as an excuse and just get on with it, and the states need to play their part. They need to be producing and encouraging blokes to be good enough, or to try to get themselves good enough via performance to knock on the door for national selection.

During your tenure young players really had to earn their way into state and international ranks, whereas now opportunities seem to be given far more easily.
A few years ago we had a fair amount of depth, which in the last few years has eroded a little bit. So I think everyone is trying to find a new crop and just trying to make that depth stronger all the time, whereas many years ago we were strong everywhere. We had a strong national side and the state competition was breeding players who were belting the door down for selection in the national side, and there just wasn't the opportunity, whereas now there is plenty of opportunity, so young blokes should be able to see that, and they have got to hone their skills and be good enough to represent their country.

A pathway has developed parallel to, but not necessarily in line with, club and state cricket, whereby talented juniors play under-age competitions, go to the Centre of Excellence, then play for Australia A, then for the national team. Is it better for them to earn their stripes in the Sheffield Shield?
You'd like to see them earn their stripes in state cricket and get experience, but I think it is just a legacy of the times we're going through, where players are being identified younger, and because there are opportunities they're getting pushed through to state and national level a lot quicker than they used to be, because of the problem with depth.

After the Ashes you were quoted as saying you didn't think the appetite was quite there anymore for state batsmen to sweat through a long innings.
I'm not sure it is necessarily the players' fault. It is just the way the game's being played these days. There is so much one-day cricket now and Twenty20 cricket, it is just the nature of the beast, I think, and the way that cricket is changing. So it's nothing to do with the players not wanting to do it. I'm sure they do, but with all the one-day cricket they play, even at the younger, junior level, they're really brought up on a lot of one-day cricket these days.

The really good players can adapt to either form of the game, I think, and that's what we've got to identify, those players who are good enough to do that. It's not easy - that's a selection process and a coaching process.

"To have 25 [players on the contracts list] seems a lot to me, and I think the players' association and CA need to be a bit flexible on this. Where we go with it I don't know"

Twenty20 is here to stay, the one-day format's here to stay, so we've just got to bear with it and try to encourage or produce players that can change the way they play the game. Sure, one shorter form of the game might suit some players but that's a selection and a coaching process.

The Cricket Australia contracts system has faced plenty of scrutiny. A slightly different system existed when you were chairman, but the idea of a list of 25 is the same.
We had plenty of depth then, but I'm not sure that 25 is the right number. I must admit I was always saying that [as chairman], but that was the deal, that was done, and we had to work with it. To have 25 seems a lot to me, and I think the players' association and CA need to be a bit flexible on this. Where we go with it I don't know. You and I aren't going to change that, it's more a matter for CA and the players' association, I believe. There are several lines of thought: whether it should be more incentive-based, or whether T20 cricket should have separate contracts, there's several lines of thought, and I'm sure they're going over all of those.

Does there need to be a greater weighting of CA contracts towards Test cricket to keep it the pinnacle of the game and counterbalance T20 money?
I think so. I've been out of the loop for a little while now but I presume most players still want to represent their country in Test matches. Sure, the shorter version of the game, T20 and to a lesser extent one-day cricket, generate a lot of money, so that's all got to be taken into account and there's got to be a balance somewhere.

Harking back to your final year or so as chairman - did you have discussions about avoiding the block of retirements that we subsequently saw in 2007? Australian cricket had successfully avoided that scenario since Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh quit together in 1984.
Of course, we'd started to speak about that, and it was a matter of identifying and having back-up players in place, but then I was out of it after that [April 2006] and I don't know what occurred, whether there was any discussion taking place between the selectors and the players at that stage to have a gradual easing out.

Up until Steve Waugh fought to stay in the team for another year beyond 2003, the selection panel had more or less dictated when a long-term player would retire. The balance shifted more towards the players' wishes after that, didn't it?
That's quite right, and sometimes that's obviously via a discussion between the selectors and the player to organise it. But if they don't see it that way, sometimes it is up to the selectors to tap them on the shoulder. You've got to do what you think is best for the Australian cricket team. It's not a personal thing, it's just you've got a job to do, and you've got to do it how you see it.

You are about to work again with Greg Chappell, a former Queensland team-mate and now a very influential figure in Australian cricket. How do you see the dynamic between the two of you?
I think it'll be fine. I haven't had a great deal of talk with Greg just yet. I caught up with him the other day, so I don't think there will be any issues whatsoever - it'll be good to work with him.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on August 15, 2011, 1:09 GMT

    Moving forward is IMPOSSIBLE without looking back.It requires that you observe and measure,with integrity of process,where you have been,to know if you HAVE moved.State Boards revolted and a committee repudiated Chappells position.How does this qualify as being a 'Necessary evil',@Meety?Chappell PREVENTED EXPERIENCE from filtering through the development chain.He made players over 23 unwelcome.He PREVENTED bowlers and batsmen from simulating match length PREPARATION in the 2nd eleven with batting and bowling restrictions.SURELY,this is the finishing that youre talking about.Its the finishing that the previous generations had.It brought australia to a PINNACLE of success.His position on youth and potential over performance DEPOSED MERIT as a selection criterion.Guys like Hodge and others gave up and retired early.Who can blame them?Older players were made unwelcome.Even now,who can say how players are selected?Neither retirements nor the IPL were ever responsible.Spiteful management was

  • Andrew on August 14, 2011, 4:04 GMT

    @hyclass - I know all the changes that Chappell was invovled with & I liked none of them, however, I strongly believe that there is strong evidence to suggest that we have abundant raw talent now with FC exposure. This was needed IMO because the Shield was in a situation where it was chockfull of yourneyman - very good cricketers who if elevated to Test level would have a few moments in the sun (North), & then end witha fairly underwhelming career. It was a gamble, it now means that the fruit of the decisions need to be managed VERY well, or it could easily go sour very quickly. Looking fwd to the Argus report - I demand that it is public, but I think it's time to move fwd & back the guys that are representing us NOW!

  • Grant on August 13, 2011, 12:41 GMT

    The thing about talent as it can come on quite quickly. Looks at amir. He was ripping through English and Australian batting line ups a couple of years out of school. There could be two Australian amirs being shy with girls and dreaming of their first Holden about to take the world by storm...... Or there might not for a long time. Theatre is sort of how it works.

  • Christopher on August 13, 2011, 8:26 GMT

    @Meety,your position needs a rethink.The Futures League or 2nd eleven,had age limits placed upon it by Chappell,that prevented experienced players coming back from injury and anyone maturing after 23,from competing against youth,at a level between club and state.It badly weakened the competition.He placed mad batting and bowling limits as well.It handicapped the states to such a degree,that their revolt forced the unworkable decisions to be overturned by a committee.He changed the use of the Cof E,forcing state players to train there,further weakening the development chain.Clarke and Hauritz were scathing of the damage Chappell has done.@landl47,Australia has been awash with talent throughout this low,but they cant get picked.It used to be dedicated to integrity of process connected to results.That was replaced with fanciful theories and no accountability for the outcomes.Not picking on form,age bias and hopeless coaching are all responsible.The system wasnt broken before they arrived.

  • kieran on August 13, 2011, 1:15 GMT

    @landl47: there is no young talent in WORLD cricket that is any where near the same level as the recent Aus greats of Warne/McGrath/Gilchrist. To suggest there is no young talent in Aus only identifies your ignorance on the matter. Do you think the Eng 2nd XI would be beating Ind right now? Or could beat Ind in Ind? Your current test team have yet to win there. I don't believe there will ever again be a period of dominance like experienced by WI or Aus, the modern game and domestic set-ups are too professional.

  • Philip on August 12, 2011, 23:53 GMT

    It needs to be said too that even Australia dominating at under 19 level is not necessarily a sign of impending Test greatness. Surely everybody understands that under-age excellence can be achieved with a team of players who are peaking nicely at the right time? A lot of what happens in under-age cricket is about winning the here-and-now and not about laying the foundation for a long-term future. We've got to stop thinking of the two as one-and-the-same. We've become a nation of short-attention spans.

  • Philip on August 12, 2011, 23:40 GMT

    I still think the pathway systems have it wrong. Much better to have quality teens playing more against adults than cocooned in junior ranks (even if elite). Footy doesn't kid itself that it can pick the right ones at 14. Why then does cricket? After all, late developers need not apply, nor those that don't fit the "what-we're-looking-for" bill. One of the easiest ways to ensure low standards nationally is to "farm" youngsters. Like modern Australian dairy cows they'll all be the same (same breed, same problems). Rather more diversity is what's needed and that takes time to develop. The cream will eventually rise to the top if you give it a chance. However, if you insist on continually shaking the milk bucket to check on the progress, you'll never get to see it. It'll get lost in the system.

  • Paul on August 12, 2011, 22:38 GMT

    Trevor Hohns does have a valid point and the need to blood in young batsmen including Aaron Finch, Nic Maddison and Mitchell Marsh in the next 12 months is crucial for the long term climb back to the number 1 ranking. We have to make the hard decisions. The hard decisions include retiring Ricky Ponting or Michael Hussey after the Sri Lankan tour to prepare for the 2013 Ashes series. Hilditch has no idea..CHappell is not responsible for weakening the competition. I blame Hilditch and Nielsen for giving senior players the right to name their retirement date...

  • Andrew on August 12, 2011, 22:07 GMT

    @hyclass - the tampering Chappell did with the Futures League was a neccessary evil. Oz started losing great players to retirement which led to vacancies in the national team, coupled with the odd injury, the ICL came along & sucked more experienced players out of the State competition. Players needed to be fast tracked as the Shield whilst still of a good standard was filled up with journeymen that were neither outstanding nor poor. Currently "talent" wise Oz Shield sides are chocker block ful of talent, they require extra finishing as there is an absence of veterans to test them (one of the reasons why I wished that Lee & Clark didn't retire from FC cricket). Give the guys like Lynn, Burns, Beaton, Maddinson, Cummins, Abbott, Armstrong, Brain & Richardson etc are all knocking on the door of bigger things & they have all come thru faster than normally would of been the case, they've gained experience thru T20s as well as playing in Emerging Youth games.Just need to get selectors right

  • Lou on August 12, 2011, 13:28 GMT

    I agree. 25 is a ridiculous number to be on contract. Some of them will barely get a game all year, that's a good gig. But the point is, if the talent isn't there, then it just isn't. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

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